Pssst! HEU releases "top secret" numbers around 1998 health care bargaining costs

News release

In a bid to remove a veil of secrecy manufactured by some media sources and government representatives, the Hospital Employees' Union today released the major cost items of its 1998 contract settlement with the Health Employers Association of B.C., which the union says were widely reported in the mainstream media and elsewhere at the time. "We're sorry to disappoint conspiracy theorists who have branded 1998 public sector bargaining as a series of secret deals," says HEU assistant secretary-business manager Zorica Bosancic. "But the major cost issues from our settlement were posted on our web site and displayed prominently in other union materials and news releases in 1998." The three year contract, which expires March 31, 2001, for the facilities sector bargaining association covers 42,000 of HEU's 45,000 members who provide a variety of health services in hospitals and long-term care facilities across the province. In addition it also covers 3,000 caregivers who belong to other unions including the BCGEU and the International Union of Operating Engineers. The contract applies to approximately 33,000 full time equivalent positions, or about 45,000 full-time, part-time and casual caregivers, 87 per cent of whom are women. Total payroll April 1, 1998 was $1.1 billion. Like all public sector negotiations in 1998, Bosancic says HEU faced a government demand for a two year wage freeze so that Victoria could target additional funding to raise wages and benefits of the lowest paid public sector workers primarily in health and social services programs. The settlement included: • a two-year wage freeze with a two per cent wage increase April 1, 2000 ($22 million); • one per cent for pay equity in each year of the three year agreement ($32.5 million); • benefit improvements (estimated in negotiations as $6 million); • classification adjustments for computer specialists to reduce expenditures on expensive outside consultants ($860,000). "Annualized, these cost items, including pay equity, are equal to a 1.85 per cent increase in each year of the three-year agreement," Bosancic said. In addition, the facilities sector settlement contained two other elements that reflect government initiatives to all 90,000 health care workers across B.C. and hundreds of employers. These are: • a new health and safety agency to develop solutions for skyrocketing workplace injury rates. Health care is the most dangerous place to work for on-the-job injuries in B.C., costing Victoria $80 million a year in WCB costs alone. Government support for the agency totalled $11 million over three years in the form of a repayable loan; • ongoing funding for the Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency, which has existed since 1994. The joint union/employer run agency provides a variety of coordinated human resource and retraining programs for the entire health sector. Government funding commitments for the agency totaled $33 million for three years.